5 things we learned from Beauty and the Beast

The live-action remake is out this weekend. We look back on everyone's favourite kidnap-based-fairytale to see if Disney can teach us anything about real life

As payback for judging by appearances, a handsome prince is transformed into a hideous beast, and will stay that way forever unless someone falls in love with him. Fortunately, the kind-hearted Belle (who he imprisoned) fits the bill.

Fine, fine, it’s a fairytale, but with the live action remake released in UK cinemas this week, you do kind of have to wonder why these stories still have so much appeal?

Most Disney films have a moral message of some sort or another, but from our obsession with the way we look to the dangers of 'mob mentality', there’s a lot that's recognizable about our world and our economies in Beauty and The Beast.

Appearance isn’t everything

Beauty and the beast dance

Beauty and The Beast is all about recognizing the beauty inside, and not making judgements based on appearances. If the Beast had never judged the enchantress, we wouldn’t be in this mess in the first place. Then, Belle has to realize she loves the Beast (sorry, spoiler) – a process that would probably have been much quicker if he was still a handsome prince.

Judgements like that happen all the time – economists say there’s something called a ‘beauty bias’ in most economies: all other things equal, prettier people usually make more money.

Take the workplace. The idea that appearance isn’t such a great indicator of what’s inside is still being talked about (seriously, do they not watch Disney?) Industries with strict dress codes get criticized for putting substance over style – big UK banks for example came under fire recently for saying that “loud ties” were a no-no in job interviews and there’s been a very gradual realisation that high heels might not make you better at your job.

Reading is good for the soul

Belle in bookstore

Belle is brave, intelligent and independent. Oh, and she loves to read. Reading's been linked to increased intelligence, higher levels of self-esteem, and apparently it probably makes you nicer: it's been argued that fiction improves the way you interact with other people – known as your emotional intelligence – because it focuses your mind on characters and their relationships.

But most of all, reading makes Belle happy and maybe that’s the most important thing of all – there's a whole group of economists who think that our   should be thought of as more important than our money and wealth.

No one life is worth more

Belle's father

When Belle chooses to take her father’s place as the Beast’s prisoner, ‘crazy old Maurice’ isn’t happy - he argues that he’s lived his life, but she has years ahead of her, so he should stay instead. Belle doesn’t listen.

Again, saving your father by volunteering to be imprisoned by a mythical beast is an unlikely scenario, but the dilemma of whose life is ‘worth more’, is seen in healthcare systems everywhere.

Basically, there’s a group of people (like Belle’s dad) who think that younger people should be favoured over older people so everyone gets a chance for a decent length of life – it's called the ‘fair innings’ argument. On the other side are people who think everyone should be treated equally, regardless of age – this is the rule used by the National Health Service in the UK for example.

Letting skills go to waste gets you down

Cogsworth dancing

All the staff at the castle have been turned into appliances. Sure, they know how to put on a show but there’s not that much for them to do anymore.

Lumière, the hospitable candelabra, misses and dreams of the good old days when his skills were being ‘put to to test’.

So yes, no sad candles IRL, but we do have unemployment and unemployment isn't just a financial issue, it's a psychological one too. The mental health impact of being out of work is a real problem – in the USA, groups have been set up to help unemployed people not just get back into work, but also stay motivated and look after their mental health. Interviewees at one group said the psychological impact partly comes from the fact that we're made to think we’re defined by work. Without it, our identity feels less secure. Maybe that’s why the castle's staff feel like getting their old jobs back was equal to becoming ‘human again’.

It’s easy to get carried along with a mob

Mob storms the castle

The movie's token villain, Gaston, decides it’s time to kill the Beast because the creature won the heart of Belle, who Gaston wanted to marry. He can’t attack the castle alone, but fortunately he’s surrounded by an angry mob (why are there so many angry mobs in Disney?)

The act of going along with the crowd is known as 'herd behavior' and it’s seen pretty much everywhere, but has been a big problem in the – when people decide which business they want to buy a share of (or invest in) they often go by what other investors are doing with stocks. This makes the share of that company more valuable, which drives up prices, which brings in more investors, and before you know it, there’s a hugely inflated price that nobody really understands. Unfortunately, much like Gaston does, these prices usually come crashing down dramatically at some point.

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